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Backpacker Magazine – June 2010

Secret Hikes: Badlands

Ever dreamed of exploring another planet? Hike here.

by: Michael Lanza



You’d better like your hiking partners. Because that’s all the company you’ll have on this trek in the park’s trailless Sage Creek Unit. The three-day loop, of about 20 miles, weaves through the very hoodoos and spires that inspired 19th-century French trappers to dub this place “mauvaises terres á traverser,” or “bad lands to travel across.”

From Sage Creek Basin Overlook, follow a bison path into the basin, then walk upstream beneath occasional cottonwoods, ash, and elm. Watch for deer, pronghorn antelope, raptors, and, of course,   bison—about 800 roam the park. Camp the first night at the foot of the Pinnacles, a quiver of tall, multicolored spires. On day two, hike southwest along the castlelike, 60-mile-long Badlands Wall, navigating around Hay Butte, the prominent finger jutting northwest from the wall (point 3,035 on maps). All the while, the labyrinth’s quiet corners will make you wonder if you’re the first person to set foot there. Good navigation skills are a must for this confounding terrain. Camp in the shadow of the Badlands Wall near Sage Creek Pass, a break in the wall at mile 13. The next morning, swing north seven miles to return, weaving your way through grassy Sage Creek Basin. Late May and June are best for primrose, mariposa lily, wild rose, and cactus blooms.

›› Magic Moment Listening to the wind blow through the knee-high grasses as you watch the sunset paint the Pinnacles pink and purple from your first campsite. Bison graze in the distance and, in your peripheral vision, you catch several mule deer slipping right past you.

›› Local Knowledge Chance of showers in the forecast? “Perfect,” says ranger Connie Wolf. “Brief summer showers transform the muted colors of the rock into deep reds and ochres that really pop.” Days of hard rain? Hold off: The clay-based soil sticks to boots like cement.

›› Do It
Start at Sage Creek Basin Overlook on Sage Creek Rim Road, about 30 miles west of the Ben Reifel Visitor Center via Badlands Loop Road. Map Trails Illustrated Badlands #239 ($12; natgeomaps.com) Contact (605) 433-5361; nps.gov/badl

[Best-Kept Secret] 
Stargazing

Go in August for the Perseid meteor shower, or late fall for a chance to see northern lights. “Sync your trip with a new moon,” says ranger Aaron Kaye. “The night sky will be even darker.”



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Reader Rating: -

READERS COMMENTS

Luis
Sep 10, 2012

It was our first stop in a road trip that took us 8 thousand miles around the US from NYC. My friend lost his engagement ring in the suggested spot from this magazine--- other than that, the experience was amazing, the landscape, I agree, from another planet, and the night sky with the most striking number of stars I have ever seen. If you find the ring contact me! ;)

Luis
Sep 10, 2012

It was our first stop in a road trip that took us 8 thousand miles around the US from NYC. My friend lost his engagement ring in the suggested spot from this magazine--- other than that, the experience was amazing, the landscape, I agree, from another planet, and the night sky with the most striking number of stars I have ever seen. If you find the ring contact me! ;)

Steve C.
Aug 03, 2010

Just got back from the Badlands two days ago. The night sky pops out at you in ways that are startling. Sunsets with mellow shades of purples, reds and golds contrast with the many contours to make scenes that are peaceful, serene and beautiful. Before our visit, they had rain which made the vegetation lush and green, proving that this area has many natural secrets. The July noon-time sun was hot, but the evenings were quite pleasant. For a great memory, we finished off our visit with a horseback ride at the Badlands Ranch Resort south of the park. For my family, this was truly a trip to remember.

Lindsey
Jul 08, 2010

The Badlands is best described as "another planet" and is a unique place that many avid hikers and nature lovers miss. Its the perfect change of pace from wooded and mountainous walks that most associate with packing.

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